By John Denton
February 22, 2013
``It was a collective spirit with guys pulling for each other out there,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``If we made a mistake guys weren’t making the same mistake again. It was really gratifying. And I told the guys that while it was not the result that you want wins and losses wise, but we took a positive step tonight. There was some growth with our new guys and we’ll keep moving forward.’’
Rookie Maurice Harkless, who played with a swollen and painful spider bite on the inside of his left arm, had his second impressive game in a row, scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds. His thunderous dunk off an E-Twaun Moore steal drew the Magic within 72-69 with 5:21 to play. But from there Randolph (16 points and 14 rebounds) and Gasol (19 points and 13 rebounds) hit back-breaking baskets to doom the Magic.
``I’m extremely proud of the effort and competitiveness and the things that we’ve been talking about,’’ Vaughn said. ``Just to see it from start to finish. That’s an extremely good ball club and we didn’t let whether the ball went in or not dictate how our energy was. We just played really good basketball tonight.’’
It was the Magic’s first game in seven seasons without Redick on the roster. The shooting guard was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, along with reserves Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith. In a different deal, Josh McRoberts was shipped to Charlotte for an undisclosed amount of cash and Hakim Warrick, who is expected to be waived in the coming days.
Before the trade, Redick was averaging career-bests in points and assists, so it was up to the Magic to find a way to replace that production on Friday night. And they had to do so on a night when they dressed the NBA minimum of eight players and used only seven.
Nicholson had 14 points and Vucevic added 11 rebounds. Moore had 12 points and seven assists in 39 minutes.
``I tried to do my best to lead (the rookies) considering the circumstances, but their focus was unbelievable,’’ Afflalo gushed. ``Their attention to detail when it came to helping a teammate and getting after 50/50 balls was really impressive. Once we get some more guys coming in to help us out a little this is the way that we need to play moving forward. Not just today, not just the rest of the season, but as this franchise continues to grow.’’
Any chance the Magic had of beating the Grizzlies and their rugged frontline came to an end in the third quarter when Vucevic encountered trouble with Zach Randolph. In a span of 1 minute and 27 seconds, Vucevic picked up three fouls – all while guarding Randolph – to send him to the bench with five fouls. He ultimately fouled out of the game with 8:02 left.
And when Nicholson fouled out with 4:35 to play, Orlando had just its five players on the floor and veteran forward Al Harrington on the bench. Harrington dressed so that Orlando could meet the NBA minimum of eight players in uniform, but he did not play. He hasn’t played all season after having four procedures on his knee in the offseason.
``I was asking (Athletic Trainer) Keon (Weise), `Who else is over there and how many are left?’’’ Vaughn joked. ``I was kidding with coach (Laron) Profit that I was going to send him to the back and put a jersey on him. But we made it through the game against a very physical team. It tested our ability to play through fouls.’’
Up 36-31 and playing efficient on both ends of the floor late in the first half, Orlando went through a dry spell and scored just two points over the final 5:40 of the second quarter. They followed that up by scoring just three points in the first 5:44 of the third quarter to fall into a 53-41 hole.
The Magic will host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night and they will once again be without Jameer Nelson. The veteran point guard strained the patellar tendon in his left knee on Wednesday and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Saturday in Orlando.
Saturday’s game is expected to feature the debuts of Magic newcomers Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih. The trio arrived in Orlando from Milwaukee on Friday where they were scheduled to undergo physicals. The players will likely walk through a couple of plays and watch game tapes with coaches on Saturday morning in hopes of playing against the Cavaliers.
``We’ve got some work to do to welcome the new guys and see some semblance of a playbook and talk with them hopefully,’’ Vaughn said. ``That will be the next step for us going forward.’’
When Memphis forward Quincy Pondexter drilled a 3-pointer with three-tenths of a second left in the third quarter, it put Memphis up 67-53 and crushed the spirits of a Magic squad that was scrapping to stay close. A minute earlier Orlando had gotten within 60-51 of the lead only to see Memphis score seven points in the final minute of the third quarter.
Bedeviled of late by last-second shots at the end of quarters and halves, the Magic saw Tayshaun Prince drill a pull-up jumper in the lane with a tenth of a second left in the second quarter. That shot put Memphis up 43-38 at the break, ruining an otherwise stellar first half for the Magic.
Orlando matched the Grizzlies basket for basket throughout the first two quarters. Getting valuable contributions from Afflalo (nine in the first half), Harkless (nine points) and Nicholson (eight points), the Magic shockingly led one of the NBA’s best teams 36-31 with 5:40 left in the first half.
But Orlando had just one basket the rest of the second quarter, allowing the Grizzlies to grab the lead and control of the game. Still, young Magic players such as Kyle O’Quinn (six points and seven rebounds) were encouraged by the effort the team put forth against the rugged Grizzlies.
``We knew what we were up against, and when coach (Vaughn) gave his pregame speech he talked about enjoying the challenge,’’ O’Quinn said. ``We knew what we were getting into and we gave a lot just to come that close. … Arron led the way as far as talking with his veteran leadership and talking, but everybody had each other’s backs. We were just holding each other accountable for holding it down.’’
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